Palestine: It's All Over
by Alexander Cockburn
The Nation magazine June 19, 2006
The first item I ever wrote about Palestinians
was around 1973, when I was just starting a press column for the
Village Voice. It concerned a story in the New York Times about
a "retaliatory" raid by the Israeli air force, after
a couple of Fatah guerrillas had fired on an IDF unit. I'm not
sure whether there were any fatalities. The planes flew north
and dumped high explosives on a refugee camp in Lebanon, killing
a dozen or so. I wrote a little commentary, noting the usual lack
of moral disquiet in the Times story about this lethal
retaliation inflicted on innocent refugees.
Dan Wolf, the Voice's editor, called me in and suggested I might
want to reconsider. I think, that first time, the item got dropped.
But Dan's unwonted act of censorship riled me, and I started writing
a fair amount about the lot of the Palestinians.
Those were the days when Palestinians
carried far less news value for editors than Furbish's lousewort,
and no politician ever said that this beleaguered plant didn't
actually exist as a species, which is what Golda Meir said of
Back then you had to dig a little harder
to excavate what Israelis were actually doing to Palestinians.
Lay out the facts about institutionalized racism, land confiscations,
torture, and a hail of abuse would pour through the mailbox, as
when I published a long interview in the Voice in 1980 with the
late Israel Shahak, the intrepid professor from Hebrew University.
It's slightly eerie now to look at what
Shahak was saying back then and at the accuracy of his predictions:
"The basic trends were established in '74 and '75, including
settler organization, mystical ideology, and the great financial
support of the United States to Israel .... Between summer '74
and summer '75 the key decisions were taken, and from that time
it's a straight line." Among these decisions, said Shahak,
was "to keep the occupied territories of Palestine,"
a detailed development of much older designs consummated in 1967.
Gradually, through the 1980s, very often
in the translations from the Hebrew-language press that Shahak
used to send, the contours of the Israeli plan emerged, like the
keel and ribs and timbers of an old ship: the road system that
would bypass Palestinian towns and villages and link the Jewish
settlements and military posts; the ever-expanding clusters of
illegal settlements; control of the whole region's water.
It wasn't hard to get vivid descriptions
of the increasingly intolerable conditions of life for Palestinians:
the torture of prisoners, the barriers to the simplest trip, the
harassment of farmers and schoolchildren, the house demolitions.
Plenty of people came back from Israel and the territories with
harrowing accounts, though few of the accounts made the journey
into a major newspaper or onto national television.
And even in the testimonies that did get
published here, there was never recognition of Israel's long-term
plan to wipe the record clean of all troublesome UN resolutions,
crush Palestinians' national aspirations, steal their land and
I them into ever-smaller enclaves, ultimately
balkanize them with the wall, which was on the drawing boards
many years ago. Indeed, to write about any sort of master plan
was to incur further torrents of abuse for one's supposedly "paranoid"
fantasies about Israel's bad faith, with much pious invocation
of the "peace process."
But successive Israeli governments did
have a long-term plan. No matter who was in power, the roads got
built, the water stolen, the olive and fruit trees cut down (a
million), the houses knocked over (12,000), the settlements imposed
(300), the shameless protestations of good faith issued to the
US press (beyond computation).
As the new millennium shambled forward,
surely it became impossible to believe any Israeli claim to be
bargaining, or even to wish to bargain, in good faith. By now
the "facts on the ground" in Israel were as sharply
in focus as one of Dali's Surrealist paintings.
In May of this year the Israeli Prime
Minister, Ehud Olmert, came to Washington and addressed a joint
session of Congress at which he declared: "I believed, and
to this day still believe, in our people's eternal and historic
right to this entire land." In other words, he doesn't recognize
the right of Palestinians to even the wretched cantons currently
envisaged in his "realignment." Why should Hamas believe
a syllable of Olmert's poppycock?
In Olmert's "realignment" plan
the "separation barrier," now, scheduled to be Israel's
permanent "demographic border," annexes 10 percent of
the West Bank, while melding into Israel vast settlements and
hundreds of thousands of settlers. The Palestinians lose their
best agricultural land and the water. Israel's Greater Jerusalem
finishes off any possible viability for a separate Palestinian
state. This Palestinian mini-archipelago of cantons is shuttered
to the east by Israel's security border in the Jordan Valley.
The press here, marinated in timidity
and ignorance, greets Olmert's "realignment" schedule
with tranquil respect. In the meantime a frightful historical
tragedy is in its final stages. With the connivance of what is
sometimes laughably referred to as the "world community"-notably
the United States and the European Union-Israel is deliberately
starving Palestinians into submission as the reward for having
democratically elected the party of their choice. Whole communities
are famished and sick, cut off by Israel from food and medicine.
The World Bank predicts a poverty rate of more than 67 percent
later this year. A UN report issued in Geneva on May 30 says that
four out of ten Palestinians in the territories live under the
official poverty line, of less than $2.10 a day. The ILO estimates
the jobless rate to be 40.7 percent of the Palestinian labor force.
The end of the story? I'd say the basic
strategy is what it was in 1948: population transfer, to be achieved
by making life so awful for Palestinians that most of them will
depart, leaving a few bankrupt ghettoes behind as memorials to
all those foolish hopes of a sovereign Palestinian state.